By Ken Hegan for MSN

A young Toronto man has created a map of every flight path in the world.

The result is a lovely, ethereal map with exploding clusters of arcing blue lights. [click on the images to expand them]

Flight map

Map of world flight paths by Michael Markieta

It looks like thousands of ghosts flying between continents. Either that or a glowing Lite-Brite box. But instead of a toy the whole family can enjoy, this map shows which international cities will be destroyed in the coming zombie holocaust.

Here’s why:

Yes, the map reveals which global cities boast the greatest number of incoming and outgoing flights. But it also shows how these cities will be the worst places for an outbreak of SARS or an all-new Black Death (Hint: it will be very bad luck for us all if Frankfurt and Atlanta get overrun by zombies who enjoy flying).

The map’s digital cartographer, Michael Markieta, 23, is a GIS (geographic information system) consultant for the Arup Group in Toronto. He came up with the idea for his experiment while he was a geographic analysis student at Ryerson University in Toronto.

He’s now consulting with Arup on this flight visualization project and told the Toronto Star that he hopes his map will help researchers to analyze the spread of communicable diseases.

For example, travellers at Frankfurt Airport can choose from 250 destinations to spread their rare and horrible cough.


Flight paths across Europe

Meanwhile, Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport​ ​comes in 2nd place, with travellers able to spread their sneezes to 219 destinations.

“If something like SARS broke out in Atlanta, it would be devastating,” Markieta told the Star.

North America

Flight paths across North America

The busiest airports by continent are Atlanta, São Paulo, Frankfurt, Beijing, Sydney and Cairo.

To reveal how our world is connected by flights, Markieta spent the past year collecting data from 58,288 global flight paths. This data is available from the open-source project

Markieta transferred this data to a graphics program with colour codes. He assigned light blue for short routes and a darker blue for longer trips. So the brighter the route, the busier the flight path.

The map highlights the disparity between the ultra-busy northern hemisphere (which is awash in blue-lit flight paths, particularly in Central Europe and the eastern American states), and the southern hemisphere which is largely dark except for a few cities like Egypt and Johannesburg.


African flight paths

Markieta’s map is getting a ton of media attention around the world. He could probably board a flight bound for anywhere today and be offered a high-paying GIS job the moment he lands. But this Canadian boy is staying close to home. This fall he’s heading back to Ryerson to work on his master’s in spatial analysis.
South America
South American flight paths
Meanwhile his map illustrates the incredible growth of aviation. According to Arup, China is planning to develop 97 airports in the next 12 years. Yet one of the greatest challenges for aviation is climate change. 150 global airports are at risk due to rising sea levels and 34 of those are European coastal airports.

Australasia with Beijing lit up in the centre

 By the way, this blue-lit map is actually the sequel to Markieta’s visualization project that he started in 2011. To see Part 1 of his ‘global connectivity by flight’ experiment (featuring gorgeous, red-lit flight paths), click here.

— Ken Hegan

Read more of Ken’s travel stories here

Twitter: @KenHegan

Images copyright Michael Markieta/Arup

Sources: Slate,, Daily Mail, Toronto Star,